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Southampton wins funding to meet UK ‘photonics skills shortage’

25 Jan 2018

Optoelectronics Research Centre to link with universities, industry partners to develop people and skills associated with fabrication of photonics devices.

The University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) has been awarded £200,000 ($285,000 / €230,000) funding to develop much-needed skills for the photonics industry.

The funding comes from the UK’s Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Catalyst Fund program, intended to support the Government’s Industrial Strategy through curriculum development.

The ORC said the cash will enable it to “focus on addressing the skills shortage in the highly-buoyant field of photonics. In particular, the Centre will link with other universities and partners from industry to develop the skillsets associated with the design and fabrication of photonics devices and circuits in advanced materials.”

To deliver its Catalyst Fund activities, Southampton will work closely with other UK universities – Surrey, Cardiff, Manchester and University College London – and key partners and investors including Rockley Photonics, Oclaro Technology, Huawei UK, Optocap and the National Physical Laboratory.

The ORC will also build on its capacity for offering bespoke courses for workforce training and upskilling, focused on the individual companies’ requirements, by also integrating fabrication-related skills into existing accredited undergraduate and Masters-level courses at each of the partner universities, centred on Southampton’s world-class cleanroom facilities.

Device fabrication

This key aspect of the program will enable other universities across the UK to introduce device fabrication into their curricula, without the need to invest significant sums required to establish fabrication facilities at each institution. Consequently, students will be able to engage in the full life cycle of device development by carrying out the modeling, design, fabrication, and testing of photonics components – with the fabrication element being achieved at Southampton.

“The University of Southampton has a unique fabrication capability that is already available and open for collaborative projects, which can be effectively utilised by universities and industry alike, to train and retrain their students and staff,” said Professor Graham Reed, ORC Deputy Director and Director of Cleanroom Operations.

“A key component of our activities will be curriculum development to close skills gaps in the important area of manufacturing and future materials, to help stimulate support for, and sustain economic growth locally, regionally, and nationally, in line the government’s Industrial Strategy.”

“Whilst there is a significant skills gap to be addressed, higher education providers lack the advanced capital intensive infrastructures required to provide training,” Professor Reed continued. “Our proposal seeks to remove this barrier by providing broader access across UK academia with students at other universities able to take advantage of our facilities in Southampton to advance their own skills, combined with added support from major industry partners.”

“This will result in a better-trained and more productive workforce, a closing of the skills gap, a better student experience and, of course, additional training both in universities and industry,” Professor Reed concluded. “These advantages are clearly beneficial for HEFCE, the government, UK universities, industry, students themselves and ultimately, the wider public.”

Over 30 universities and colleges in England have been awarded a share of £6.1 million by HEFCE’s Catalyst Fund programme through this latest round of funding, with additional investment provided by the universities and colleges involved.

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